Responsible Plastic Management Step 1: Plastic Footprinting

by: Alyssa Hudson | Plastic Program Intern | October 20, 2021

Source: Green Queen

It is indisputable that plastics have made their way into every aspect of our lives, and they’re here to stay.

While plastics play an important role and offer many benefits, there is growing concern over the waste accumulating in landfills, rivers and oceans, and the stomachs of animals and marine life.

Globally, 380 million tonnes of plastic are produced every year, with some reports indicating that up to 50% of that is for single-use purposes. COVID-19 has exacerbated the issue. Roughly 200 billion plastic-based disposable masks and gloves have been used globally every month during the pandemic; the United Nations (U.N.) projects that most of this COVID-19 personal protective equipment will likely end up in landfills or the ocean.

Source: Plastic Pollution Treaty

Plastics have numerous benefits and continue to gain popularity with businesses. Plastics can reduce logistics costs, protect and preserve food, enhance vehicle safety, and contribute to life-saving medical treatments. With a growing trend of businesses increasing plastic use, the World Economic Forum predicts that plastic production will double in the next 20 years.

As the use and production of plastics increase, businesses seek to understand how they can help solve one of the most significant challenges of our time – plastic waste.

Taking Account of Your Plastic Footprint

Plastic Accounting? Plastic Footprinting? What does it mean, and why do it?

Plastic footprinting is an exercise in which a company quantifies plastic volumes and flows throughout its value chain. Akin to greenhouse gas (GHG) footprinting, plastic footprinting documents plastic material flows and how they are managed throughout the entire supply chain – including design, use, reuse, recycling, and end of life. Similar to GHG emissions, which are typically broken into Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions (direct emissions, indirect emissions from electricity, and other indirect emissions), plastic accounting requires consideration of plastic within a company’s control and value chain. Unique from GHG accounting, a plastic footprint must split plastic volumes by their ultimate destination: landfill, ocean, recycling, reuse, etc.

Source: Climate Action/Photograph by Greenpeace

Unlike GHG footprinting – guided for most corporations by the World Resource Institute’s GHG Protocol – there is currently a lack of standardized guidance for plastic footprinting. Many are preparing corporate plastic footprints even before a de facto standard is established, while others are working to create the standard. For instance, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently developed an innovative tool called ReSource Footprint Tracker. Others are calling on the U.N. to develop a treaty that could provide some of this consistency.

Corporations interested in plastic impacts can help shape the standardization and rigor of this process. ClimeCo is currently helping leading organizations engage with leading NGOs and have a voice in this movement.

A Meaningful Step Forward

Why quantify a company’s plastic footprint? It allows you to set credible targets, strategically improve your company’s impacts, and reap stakeholder and reputation benefits as a result.

Source: Resource Plastic

Once a corporation has quantified its plastic footprint, the next step is to improve its plastic impacts. One way to do this is by empowering product designers and engineers to be innovative thinkers on reducing plastic use in product development and within the overall supply chain. In parallel, as your organization evaluates how you can reduce your operational plastic footprint, ClimeCo can help you finance environmental plastic waste cleanup using plastic credits. Companies can use these credits to mitigate external environmental plastic waste beyond company control and the unavoidable volume portion of their plastic footprint. Funding from credits help to scale the recovery and recycling of environmental plastic waste around the world.

Utilizing reporting frameworks such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI): GRI 306: Waste,  SASB: Waste Management, and U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), can inform how companies can credibly share their progress.

The same factors that drove climate into corporate reporting are starting to do the same for plastics. Investors and supply chains need comparable ESG metrics to evaluate companies’ performance against market competitors. Customers and employees want company actions on plastics to match their values. Accounting for your plastic footprint can help your company enhance its performance and reputation. For leaders who want to integrate plastic into their corporate strategy, ClimeCo is ready to assist.

About the Author

Alyssa Hudson serves as an intern for the Plastics Program at ClimeCo. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Pennsylvania with a concentration in sustainability and business. In the future, Alyssa would like to work in corporate sustainability to help businesses forge sustainable futures.